2013 Mazda MAZDA3 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
July 30, 2013

The 2013 Mazda 3 drives with a lot more sophistication and verve than you might expect for a small car this affordable, practical, and fuel-efficient.

The 2013 Mazda 3 has a lively personality, one we wish it could share with more compact sedans and hatchbacks on the road today. It has some of the life in its controls. It's proof that inexpensive cars and great gas mileage don't have to preclude driving fun. 

A five-door hatchback or a four-door sedan, the Mazda 3 just looks better as a hatchback. It's the more expressive of the two designs; the sedan isn't a standout in the way the five-door is, though we wouldn't call it frumpy.

Both the eco-conscious and driving enthusiasts should be happy with the new Sky-G engine that made its debut last year. And for 2013 Mazda has expanded its availability to Mazda3 i Sport models as well as Touring and Grand Touring trims. It makes 155 hp and is refined and responsive when paired to either an a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual. And compared with the older-generation engines that are offered in the rest of the lineup, it goes about 20 percent farther on a gallon of gas.

A few other models in the Mazda3 lineup are being carried over; base Mazda3 i SV models offer the older-design 2.0-liter engine, while 3s versions get the 167-horsepower, 2.5-liter engine that has more low-end torque but it's worth the the extra money or the huge tradeoff in mileage. 

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Simply put, these are all models that are a hoot to drive, and the Mazda3 feels athletic while not sacrificing too much comfort. Strong four-wheel disc brakes (noteworthy among rivals offering inferior drum brakes), and top-notch electro-hydraulic steering mean that the tactile experience you get behind the wheel is unparalleled among affordable small cars.

The top-performance MazdaSpeed3 variant comes with an equipment list that of course includes some serious upgrades, like the 263-hp turbocharged, direct-injected 2.3-liter four. For 2013, it adds 18-inch Gunmetal alloy wheels, a black rear roof inner spoiler, black rear lower valance, and black outer mirrors with turn signal lamps, as well as tech upgrades like those made to the rest of the model line.  However, it hasn't received some of the structural changes or the newer transmissions and engine upgrades as the other models. For more, see our most recent look at the MazdaSpeed3.

The Mazda3's low points include its rather cramped back seat, as well as a little more road noise than is typical for the class (although Mazda has quelled that, mostly). Inside, you'll find generous, supportive front seats and a tight but manageable back seat.

Mazda just improved its feature set for the Mazda3 last year, but for 2013 it gets some other significant improvements that add to the value of these affordable small cars. On base SV models of the 2013 Mazda3, you get a lot for your money (air conditioning is now included on it), and with the SkyActiv powertrains now made standard on the Mazda3i Sport as well, it's an even more appealing package. The i Sport has also been revamped to include a USB port and the multi-information display--both things that used to require stepping up to the Touring. Mazda 3i Touring models remain the the models that most will probably want, as they include automatic climate control, push-button start, and Advanced Keyless Entry. Meanwhile, Grand Touring cars are the "leather and navi" choices, for those who want more of a premium, loaded feel--with rain-sensing wipers and HID headlamps at the 's' level.

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2013 Mazda MAZDA3

Styling

Especially in its distinctive five-door hatchback form, the 2013 Mazda3 is one of the sportiest, most stylish compact cars.

After a minor refresh last year, the Mazda3 returns for 2013 unchanged; and especially from the outside, it remains one of the more expressive vehicle designs in its compact-car class.

The 2013 Mazda3 remains offered as a five-door hatchback or a four-door sedan; we think the hatchback is the better-looking and more expressive of the two designs; while the sedan isn't frumpy, it's not a standout in the way the five-door is.

The Mazda3's expressive sheetmetal really strikes a good balance between elegant and racy--and that holds true whether in sedan or hatchback form. Last year the front end got resculpted into more of a relaxed smirk, easing the almost sinister grin; a resculpted front airdam and fascia also transitioned more smoothly into the flared front fenders. A new rear fascia and a couple of new wheel designs kept it fresh all around. Overall, what it means to most shoppers is that the look is cleaner, and you'll notice more body-color trim, with the dark-molded plastic now history.

Fuel-saving SkyActiv models are distinguished only by a small badge on the right side of the hatch (or trunk), a blue engine cover, and blue instrument lighting (instead of the base cars' gray lighting).

Both body styles have essentially the same interior styling. At best it's has a sporty cockpit flair, and you can see that it's been influenced by Mazda's MX-5 Miata roadster. At worst, it's somewhat drab, and the collection of hard surfaces and inconsistently grained, scratch-prone plastics altogether don't hold up to close scrutiny. But along with last year's refresh Mazda improved some of the detailing--for instance the same hue now applies to both interior screens (one for the trip computer (or nav system), the other for the climate control.

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2013 Mazda MAZDA3

Performance

The 2013 Mazda3 isn't particularly powerful, but it manages to provide more driving enjoyment than other small cars.

Last year, some models in the Mazda3 lineup were given all-new fuel-efficient, eco-badged Skyactiv powertrains—including a new engine and two new transmissions—that earned far better gas mileage while still offering a relatively sporty, satisfying driving experience.

For 2013, Mazda has managed to add its SkyActiv engine and transmissions to a wider range of Mazda3 models. In addition to the mid-level Mazda3i Touring and Grand Touring models it was previously installed into, the 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter SkyActiv-G engine is now included in Mazda3i Sport models--leaving the base 2.0-liter MZR (older-generation) engine only on the entry-level SV model.

Get any of the models with this new engine, and you likely won't be disappointed. Mazda has shown that in order to greatly improve fuel economy, you don't need to take driving fun out of the equation. The new direct-injection, high-compression four runs on regular gasoline and makes 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque—about ten percent more than the base MZR—and is fitted to either a new six-speed automatic (with more aggressive torque-converter lockup) or a new six-speed manual gearbox. The manual is a little tight, but we like the close-ratio feel; and the automatic transmission ratchets between gears with (almost) the quickness of VW's DSG, while pulling off downshifts in Drive seemingly with less indecision. Over in the manual gate, you can control the shifts with very little pause, and the transmission holds gears up to redline with no forced shifts for full throttle--and rev-matching for downshifts.

Although the base Mazda3i SV might make sense for its bargain price (and it's nearly as enjoyable to drive, albeit without the exemplary mpg), it's harder making an argument for the Mazda3s models and their much thirstier 2.5-liter MZR engine. It has more torque at the low end, for faster starts, but we think that most shoppers will be happier with the new SkyActiv engine; besides, the modern automatic you get with the Sky-G helps make up for any difference in output.

Among affordable compact cars, we with no hesitation single out the Mazda3 as having the best, most engaging steering feel. With electro-hydraulic power steering (combining an electric pump with a traditional hydraulic-boost), what you get is a confident feel on center, nice, even and progressive weighting off center, and more road feel (with the severe road shocks damped out) than you'll find in any other small car--and even some performance ones.

The Mazda3 rides on the firm side compared to other small cars, although the springs and dampers were made somewhat softer for 2012, which tuned out some of the road harshness. Overall, ride and handling are phenomenal for a car this price, with progressive, predictable body control, crisp turn-in, and a lack of fluster over rough surfaces. It's now one of the only models in its class with an independent, multi-link rear suspension.

Four-wheel disc brakes are standard across the board in the Mazda3 as well, while they're optional on most compact sedans, or relegated only to the top models. Mazda3s models get even larger discs.

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2013 Mazda MAZDA3

Comfort & Quality

The Mazda3 has especially supportive front seats, but a tight back seat, road noise, and lackluster interior trims keep these models from center stage.

Whether you get the 2013 Mazda3 as a sedan or hatchback, what you'll have is a very well-designed, very functional interior. You'll find decent front-seat space, as well as respectable cargo space for a vehicle this size, although back-seat space isn't as spacious as some compact cars.

Interior accommodations, especially in front, follow the sporty tack that the Mazda3 follows in design and driving personality. The generously sized front seats are a little better-bolstered than most in this class; and we like the driving position. Taller drivers should skip the sunroof, though, as it gobbles up an inch or two of headroom that might be needed.

In back, the accommodations aren't bad, but legroom is a bit tight and the smallish doors offer a rather narrow entryway. Trunk space and hatchback cargo space are good, and in either version you can fold the backseats down. In hatchbacks, there's a low, flat floor large enough for most large enough in hatchbacks to swallow weekend finds.

Only when you get up close with the cabin details will you find, possibly, that the materials are a little disappointing. Especially if you've been cross-shopping with with the likes of the Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, or Ford Focus, you'll note that there's a little more hard plastic--although the nice hooded gauges are great, and with the fat, small-diameter steering wheel giving the 3 a little bit of sports-car feel.

Readouts for the audio and climate controls are up high, however changing the climate controls still involves looking downward and too far away from the road.

The Mazda3 used to be one of the worst cars in the class for road noise, but the automaker has made some effort to erase that impression; it's still a bit more than you hear in the Cruze or Elantra (the price for crisper handling), but highway-speed conversations are now more comfortable.

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2013 Mazda MAZDA3

Safety

Safety ratings for the Mazda3 aren't all top-notch, but it's the first affordable small car to offer blind-spot monitoring.

The 2013 Mazda3 has no holes with respect to safety features, and its excellent handling may prove an asset in avoiding an accident. Yet its crash-test ratings aren't quite at the head of the class.

All models--even the base SV--include electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, front side airbags, active head restraints, and side-curtain bags. And while most compact models in this price range offer inferior (by some accounts) rear drum brakes, the Mazda3 offers rear discs. It's also one of the first compact mass-market models to offer an available blind-spot monitoring system.

Although Mazda has refreshed the 3 in recent years, its underlying structure is now one of the oldest in this class, and its federal NCAP safety results--four stars overall, with only three-star results for side impact--aren't cause for celebration. On the other hand, the somewhat more lenient IIHS tests give the Mazda3 top 'good' results for frontal, side, and rear impact--and it's again a Top Safety Pick.

Mazda also points to the the 3's standard spare tire as a safety feature--considering that a lot of vehicles now skip it entirely, in favor of a can of aerosol sealant.

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2013 Mazda MAZDA3

Features

The Mazda3 lineup gets more standard features for 2013, and offers some impressive technology on top Grand Touring models.

Mazda just improved its feature set for the Mazda3 last year, but for 2013 it gets some other significant improvements that add to the value of these affordable small cars.

On base SV models of the 2013 Mazda3, you get a lot for your money (air conditioning is now included on it), and with the SkyActiv powertrains now made standard on the Mazda3i Sport as well, it's an even more appealing package. The i Sport has also been revamped to include a USB port and the multi-information display--both things that used to require stepping up to the Touring.

Mazda 3i Touring models remain the the models that most will probably want, as they include automatic climate control, push-button start, and Advanced Keyless Entry. Meanwhile, Grand Touring cars are the "leather and navi" choices, for those who want more of a premium, loaded feel. Also included in the Grand Touring are push-button start, HD Radio, Pandora audio streaming (via an app), SMS text-messaging, and a touch-screen navigation system, and s Grand Touring models include rain-sensing wipers and HID headlamps.

The Tech Package comes with rain-sensing wipers, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, and LED combination taillamps, as well as blind-spot monitoring (this year it also adds fog lamps, outer turn-signal lamps, and a rear-deck lip spoiler), but you'll need to step up to the Grand Touring model for that. Separately, you can opt for Sirius satellite radio, or a bassy Bose Centerpoint audio system--although we've found that with any of the 3's audio systems the displays limit the number of characters displayed (for audio information) so that most information is cryptic or cut off.

The top-performance MazdaSpeed3 variant comes with an equipment list that of course includes some serious upgrades, like the 263-hp turbocharged, direct-injected 2.3-liter four. For 20-13, it adds 18-inch Gunmetal alloy wheels, a black rear roof inner spoiler, black rear lower valance, and black outer mirrors with turn signal lamps. A USB port has also been added to the Speed3, and a Tech Package can include HD Radio, Pandora, the navigation system, voice commands, and voice-reply SMS text capability. 

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2013 Mazda MAZDA3

Fuel Economy

Get any of the 2013 Mazda3 i Sport, Touring, or Grand Touring models, and you'll get excellent gas mileage without sacrificing driving enjoyment.

Prior to last year, the Mazda3 was near the back of the pack with respect to gas mileage. But with the introduction of a new family of SkyActiv powertrains the Mazda3's mileage is now surprisingly good--especially considering that it's one of the most enjoyable small cars to drive.

Choose the Mazda3i Sport, Touring, or Grand Touring models (hatch or sedan) and you'll get up to 40 mpg on the highway, from this new high-compression, direct-injection engine. Both the six-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmissions that come with that engine are all-new, too, with the automatic boasting much-increased torque-converter lockup--helping mileage and also increasing the level of control.

The Mazda3i Touring or Grand Touring, with the six-speed automatic, is rated at 28 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, or 27/39 with the six-speed manual. Hatchback models are rated one mile per gallon lower on the highway, due to a slightly worse (0.29, versus 0.27) coefficient of drag.

Opt for the base SV, or the Mazda3 s models, and you won't do nearly as well. You'll essentially get the carryover engine and transmission combinations, with ratings that range down to 21 mpg city, 29 highway.

In repeat drives of the SkyActiv models, we've seen excellent real-world mileage that meets EPA ratings without driving as a featherfoot.

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June 16, 2017
2013 Mazda MAZDA3 4-Door Sedan Automatic i Touring

meet all expectations

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36 mpg. 45k with no issues, fun to drive. Always seems to want me to drive aggresive, handles super
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February 3, 2016
2013 Mazda MAZDA3 4-Door Sedan Automatic i Sport

Great product

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Great gas mileage, perky performance, holds the road really well.
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December 3, 2015
2013 Mazda MAZDA3 5-Door HB Automatic i Grand Touring

Great little car for commuting...uses transmission to make great MPG...very tight suspension.

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This car has been a pleasant surprise. I was looking for a used one while on a trip to Orlando. So when I found this new one for $1000 more it was an easy decision. The car has very light but predictable... + More »
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June 24, 2015
For 2013 Mazda MAZDA3

basic car with spirit

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The only negative is back seat room. I wish they made a two door hatchback version'
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8.2
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Styling 8.0
Performance 9.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 8.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 8.0
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